The state government says that Victoria’s new planning minister, Lizzie Blandthorn, will make independent decisions despite a potential conflict of interest with her lobbyist brother.
Blandthorn, who took over the planning portfolio this week as part of a cabinet reshuffle, is the sister of Hawker Britton director John-Paul Blandthorn.
Hawker Britton’s clients include construction company John Holland, which is tasked with building the West Gate Tunnel, developers Mirvac and the Dennis Family Corporation, and Melbourne airport.
The planning minister has the power to make decisions around permits and land rezoning. Still, the state government said arrangements would be in place to ensure any potential or perceived conflicts of interest were managed.
“All ministers are expected to act with integrity as they manage their portfolios to deliver the best outcomes for Victorians,” a government spokesperson said.
“The secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, the secretary of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Victorian Public Sector Commissioner are developing a robust management plan to ensure the minister’s independence for planning’s decision-making process.”
Blandthorn referred to the government’s written response when the AAP sought comment.
Her brother, who previously worked for the premier, Daniel Andrews, and federal Labor MP Bill Shorten, has told the Victorian Public Sector Commissioner that any contact with the planning minister will be done in the presence of an independent person.
Sign up to receive the top stories from Guardian Australia every morning
In a letter sent on Monday, John-Paul Blandthorn said he would also seek meetings with the minister’s staff rather than the minister herself and keep a log of meetings with the minister’s office.
“We believe it is in the best interest of Hawker Britton clients and seeks to uphold a higher standard of integrity between our firm and the Victorian Government,” he said in the letter.
The opposition leader, Matthew Guy, declined to comment on the matter but said his party would improve Victoria’s integrity system.
How to get the latest news from Guardian Australia
Thank you for your feedback.
The Centre for Public Integrity said it was “very concerned” about the potential conflict of interest. It wants to see an independent planning commission to determine planning approvals, similar to the New South Wales model.
“We’re worried that in an area that’s so sensitive and vulnerable to corruption, this personal relationship exists,” the ccenter’sexecutive director, Han Aulby, said.
“On top of that, Victorian regulations around lobbying are some of the weakest in the country. The lobbying code of conduct isn’t enshrined in legislation. There’s no independent enforcement.
“The weaknesses in Victoria’s lobbying regime make the risks even greater.”
The planning minister’s diary should also be made public so the community can sscrutinizewho they are meeting, Aulby said.